State’s two Colo. River basin water districts eye drought contingencies
The two water conservation districts that comprise the entire Colorado River basin in Colorado have adopted principles concerning how extended drought conditions should be addressed on the river’s storage system.
Their recommended contingency steps, if needed, to boost extremely low levels at lakes Powell and Mead include releasing water from other reservoirs to Lake Powell, removing non-native trees and employing winter cloud seeding.
As drought conditions persist in the Colorado River basin, low water levels in the lakes are of extreme concern.
The seven Colorado River basin states and the Bureau of Reclamation are working on what is being referred to as a contingency plan to avoid the unacceptable consequences if the current basinwide drought continues.
At Lake Powell the concern is that storage could drop below the elevation necessary to produce power. If this occurs, federal agencies would lose up to $120 million per year in power revenues. These revenues are used to cover the operation of power-generating units and the transmission grid, repay the federal treasury for the facilities, and cover the costs of critical environmental recovery programs. Additionally, customers of federal power could see their costs skyrocket, as the Western Area Power Administration would have to go to the spot market to replace the lost hydropower.
The Colorado River and Southwestern water conservation districts met in a special joint meeting Sept. 18 in Montrose.
The boards resolved that changes in federal reservoir operations and additional investment in river augmentation programs must be the first priority.
If it becomes necessary to implement the contingency plan, stored water in Flaming Gorge, Navajo and the Aspinall Unit (Blue Mesa Reservoir) should be released and subsequently stored in Lake Powell to increase Powell’s lake levels, the boards said. Weather modification (winter cloud seeding) and removal of non-native, riparian trees (tamarisk and Russian olive) should be undertaken to enhance both river flows and water levels in Lake Powell.
Only if those efforts prove insufficient should “demand management” proposals be pursued, because those efforts would disrupt traditional water uses. Demand management proposals include a reduction in consumption by municipal and irrigation users and voluntary deficit irrigation and temporary fallowing by agricultural users.
The two boards stressed the importance that any demand management effort include conservation by both municipal and agricultural water users, and that any agricultural water disruptions be shared by Colorado River water users on both the East and West slopes.
The entire Colorado River basin from the Rockies through the Lower Basin to Mexico is in at least the 15th year of a historic drought. Despite occasional above-average years, the 15-year trend is very dry. Lake Powell is about half full and Mead is below 40 percent full.
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